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tv   Book Discussion on the Book of Matt  CSPAN  March 2, 2014 1:00am-3:16am EST

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>> thank you. [inaudible conversations] [inaudible conversations]
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next stephen jimenez argues the killing of matthew shepard in laramie wyoming in october of 1998 was not an hate crime but instead the result of a drug-related robbery gone wrong. this is a little over two hours. >> let me tell you how we came to be here tonight. as most of you are aware, i was an assistant principal at virginia high school and was in the laramie school systems for 30 years and so i saw a lot of stuff from my position and here in november a friend of mine
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palled around and erma said glenn have you seen a new book out on matthew shepard and as i am sure that a number of you are, it's hey that's old news. why do we want to drag that up? she said no, this i think is worthy of your reading it. irma let me have the book and i didn't put it down for two days because i lived it and i mean this is the way i saw it as i was going through the schools and working with these young people. and you know i don't want to change anything. i don't want you to look at this in any other way. it was a tragedy that took place back then and in no way am i trying to change that.
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but i think if we have the opportunity to look at it, you know through another person's eyes. i have told stephen if given the opportunity i would have liked to have written this book because one of the nice things about my job is probably 99% of the kids that went through the junior high school came back and you know i don't want to say we are the odds that they will tell me anything at this point and laugh about it, hey do you remember this and you remember that? i have had a number of them come back and we will talk about stuff like drugs ,-com,-com ma alcohol use and stuff that was going on at the junior high school in the high school and in the community. i had a number of them that i knew that were involved in the drugs and the drug culture they
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came back to me and said wow you know that was not what it seemed to be. there were drugs in that situation and it's one of those things as a laramie boy, i was born and raised here. i went to school in my seventh grade year i was in this building. we had seventh grade through 12th grade here. we are talking 1959, i'm aging myself. 1959, 7312 and then they went on to high school and the first graduating class in high school was the 1960/61 class so than the next year we ended up having this great big doling to ourselves and so laramie born and raised and when i read this book you know it just started kind of a burden that hey i need to do more about this and i
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actually, we are living in loveland and i'm trying to find the right property to live here in laramie and to get back. so i was up here working with gary one of my friends here and we were looking at some property that we are working on. i got a call from my wife staying hey stephen jimenez who wrote the book is going to be doing a reading reading of that book in fort collins. i said goodbye real quick and went down there just in time for steve to come out and do his reading. as i sat there, in that audience and just relating it again. by the way some of you i don't know if you remember it diane smith who was principal, where was diane principal? linford, thank you. i stand corrected.
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anyway diane was fair and afterwards we talked a little bit and i went up and introduced myself to see ben and i said hey i would really like to spend some more time with you in talking about this. i said why are you doing this in laramie and he said i have not an invited. so i said hey consider yourself invited. i will try to get us together and i guess where i am with this is i'm not wanting, i'm not telling you what to think very at i'm asking you to read the book and want to read the book make up your own mind. see what the reason is and by no means are we trying do you know know -- these young people that committed this you know i don't want to change anything. i mean it was a tragedy but
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don't we want to deal with the truth and that was kind of the way it i was looking at it so over the course of the last two to three months we have put this together and there are a number of us doing this, not just me so here we are tonight and i would like, i want this to be educational. number one. i wanted to be informative because i think you know there is a lot to be learned here and if you have some questions like i did please, we have the mic here. we welcome and in fact we want your input. so with no further ado here i'm going to turn this over to ray and ray as i said was a radio announcer and doing a lot of stuff there and he was right in the middle of this.
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>> thank you. i remember the morning after the attack and it looked like it was going to be another crime. it looked like there were a series of killings by the number of other people who had been murdered so we were kind of getting used to going and visiting cal rerucha at the al bunny courthouse so what struck me as kind of insane really within a very short time and there's a chapter in a book called wildfire that steve talks about, about how the narrative of this incident quickly went wild and the way the national media ascended upon this town and i thought unfairly characterized the citizens.
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there were a lot of stories that i think people who live here when they read them in the papers and when they saw them being reported on television ace just shook their head and said no, that's not this town. just an anecdote for that. we were sitting in the courthouse between the court proceedings. it was early on in all of this and i was sitting next to a couple of network reporters. they knew each other. they were talking back and forth and basically speculating on what the next part of the process was going to be. what do you think is going to happen? well i don't know what you think is going to happen? this went on back and forth in an hour later i went back to the radio station and a together newscast. we had a television on there and i was watching the television. one of the reporters was doing a live standup and he said sources
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inside the albany county courthouse or speculating the next move in this process is going to be and then he started relating the story he was talking with the other fellow. and technically the story was correct. there was a source inside the albany county courthouse but in the age of 24-hour news you have got to fill time and that is essentially what they were doing. i have a couple of questions i would like to ask steve about that, but about why the media refuses to let go of a narrative once they have established it. and so it was an interesting front row seat i guess if you will to see how this process works. i'm reading from the book jacket here about steve and when this
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book came out i had seen some initial press reports on the internet and ran over to barnes & noble and pick it up and they still have not yet unpacked the boxes. i asked the lady to look it up and she found it. she said just a second we have it in the backroom. she went and found it for me so i ended up getting it. stephen gammon is that is an award-winning journalist and producer. he was a norman mailer nonfiction fellow and is written and produced programs for abc news 2020 and rather reports nova fox court tv and others. his accolades include the western guild of american award, i'm sorry, i've got to put my eyeballs on here.
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mongers an award for investigative reporting, an enemy and fellowships at the across foundation and wyoming. a graduate of georgetown university he has taught screenwriting and new york universities to school. he lives in new york and santa fe. steve thanks for putting on a parka and coming out and visiting us this evening. [applause] >> thank you, thank you good evening and it's really a pleasure to be here in laramie again because i just went on a very long and wild journey that i never expect good would happen. what i would like to do first, and going to read a couple of excerpts from the book, short experts -- excerpts bits first i would like
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to tell you how i came to the story. obviously when this crime happened i was as horrified by everyone around the country about the brutality, the horrible violence that was committed but it really wasn't at the time of the crime that i decided to come to laramie. it was a little more than a year later at the time aaron mckinney the principle perpetrator here was convicted and i was back east. i read the statement that dennis shepard, matthew's father made in court at the time aaron mckinney was convicted and it was such a heartfelt statement in which he really bared his soul and there were satellite trucks outside and need yet everywhere. at that moment dennis shepard really wrote his soul and said
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things like you know, why wasn't i a better father and a friend to matt? why wasn't i there when he needed me the most and how will i ever get an answer to those questions now? when i read that statement there was something about it that's i think spoke to fathers and sons everywhere, others and daughters everywhere. i think it spoke to families, families of all kinds who have gone through tragedy. so it was really that kind of the story of what this family had been through because it was so clear that it was something that would e. with his family forever that i decided to come to laramie. i came to laramie the first timo this month in february of 2000 i came here to research a screenplay for a made for
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television film because i would have felt that the story deserved a full length treatment, a two-hour treatment on television but i came to educate myself. the entire record in the case had recently been unsealed as many of you who live in laramie know. the record was sealed by the court for a year. witnesses had been under gag order and not just witnesses but principles involved in the case, people who worked in the courthouscourthous e, defense lawyers, law enforcement. so i was very interested in going through that public but i came here to write this story of the anti-gay hate crime as it had been presented by the national media. i am a gay man. i have been out since the 1970s and it had seemed to me that this was an important story to understand to look at an full-length form. i know those of you who live
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here are very familiar with what that narrative was at the time. i can just say that eventually i went through some changes in my thinking about the case but i just want to refresh our collective memory here about how this was reported initially. from the very first trip warts of the october 19, the october 6, 1998 attack major news organizations provided a generally uniform account of the crime and motives behind it. a sampling of newspaper and magazine stories painted a harrowing picture. this is first from the "boston globe." shepard, 22, a first-year
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student at the university of wyoming paid nearly allegedly for trusting to strangers enough at the fireside lounge to tell them he was gay. what followed was an atrocity that forced the stunt community of laramie to painfully confront the festering of anti-gay hatred as the nation and its lawmakers watched. this is "the denver post." police investigators turned up the following sequence of alleged events. sometime tuesday night shepard meant -- henderson and mckinney at the fireside lounge. shepard told them he was gay. they invited him to leave with them. all three got into mckinney's father's pickup and the attack again. "newsweek," hungry for cash perhaps riled by shepard's trust in the mission that he was gay they drove to the edge of town police say pistol whipped him until his skull collapsed and then left him tied like a fallen
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scarecrow or a savior to the bottom of a crosshatched fence. that was "newsweek". albany county sheriffs and this is the "washington post." albany county sheriff gary polls who suggested that the beating was being investigated as a hate crime said the investigation is aggressively continuing. laramie police commander dave o'malley told the "associated press" that while robbery was the main motive shepard was targeted because he was gay. this is "time" magazine. what people mean when they say matthew shepard's murder was a lynching is that he was killed to make a point so he was stretched along the wyoming fence not just as a dying young man but as a signpost. when push comes to shove it sayn mind for gays.
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and finally "the new york times." while some gay leaders saw crucifixion imagery in mr. shepard's death, others saw a different symbolism. the old west practice of nailing a dead coyote to a ranch fence as a warning to future intruders. so that was, i kind of begin the book there and that i think is pretty true to the way the case was presented in the national media. this crime happened on tuesday october 6. within just a few days i think it was pretty widely believed that this was an anti-gay hate crime. matthew was taken to a hospital in fort collins and died in the early morning hours of october 12. by the time matthew had died, the president of the united
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states know clinton had made statements urging passage of a hate crime bill that was stalled in congress. let me just say a tiny bit about the context. the attack on matthew shepard happened just four months after the dragging death of james bird junior in jasper texas so there was a hate crime bill that was stalled in congress at the time this attack on matthew happened here in laramie. i will go back to my arrival here. i arrived in the courthouse and asked to look at documents and you know reams of paper and egg files came out and i started to go through those records and take notes during this first trip. i was fortunate that day cal rerucha was walking around the county attorney's office and i had recognized him because i had seen them in the news stories and i just approached them and i
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said would you talk with me for a few minutes about the case? he agreed and i went into his office and we spoke that first day for about 45 minutes. it was very clear that he was sizing up my intentions not just them but in the months that followed. he told me he wanted nothing to do with anything that would inflict any further pain on matthew shepard's family. and i basically said to him would you help educate me about the case? i wasn't here during the trials and any court proceedings and would you steer me in the right direction as far as documents and he agreed to do that. i took a lot of notes that first trip. i returned east end i began a series of interviews with him by phone and then i returned to laramie and i continued not just with cal were rerucha but i began to talk with other people and law enforcement and began to talk with other people in laramie.
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although cal rerucha didn't say this i kept hearing from other people in town there was more to this case. it's not as it appeared to be. i had one person law enforcement say to me the homicide had nothing to do with his sexual preference and so my curiosity was aroused. eight months into my research i finished a first draft of the screenplay that was largely based on the official record and i came back to laramie. i wanted cal rerucha to read the script but i wanted to get any documents that i hadn't copied to take with me but i thought it was going to be my final research trip. i was going through some folders at the courthouse and i came upon a letter. it was an anonymous letter but it was there the courthouse and essentially what the letter said was that aaron mckinney's
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offense was false and is has said that aaron mckinney was familiar with gay guys, with gay bars, that he was comfortable being around gay guys and it implied that some of this had to do with receiving money and other favors that darren had received money and other favors for his contact with gay guys. it names someone here in laramie as one of aaron mckinney's gay friends. and so after eight months of working on the screenplay i was in a quandary and i ultimately decided to put the screenplay aside and to begin to look at the case as a journalist. while my experience wasn't as a journalist i was documentary filmmaker filmmaker who had done longform stories in several stories dealing with crime and law and justice. so we fully but the screenplay aside and i began doing some investigation of my own.
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i would say i did quite a bit of that for about a year. when i had gathered enough information i took the story to "the new york times magazine" and that pitch it to them and based on what i brought them they commissioned me to write an article for "the sunday times" magazine. i worked on that story on and off. i was doing a couple of other things but i worked on it over period of two years. this was from 2002 until early 2004. and in 2004 the story was killed at "the new york times magazine" they did not criticize the reporting. they actually said the reporting was really good and we would like to work with you on something else but the suggestion was that they really didn't want to go into some of the darker aspects of the story. as luck would have it, i was talking at the same time to abc
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news 20/20 because i had hoped that maybe i could do the times magazine story and do this for television but when the times magazine killed at that forget it. nbc news will never do this but what in fact happened is that abc news based on the material that was in the article at the times magazine killed abc news said let's do this. they put their resources on the network behind me and i worked on that story with a producing partner for six months solid and that piece aired in november of 2004. so that was my first bit of reporting publicly that came out on the shepard murder. in-app piece we said some things in the book aye quite a bit further because after the abc piece aired i was haunted by some unanswered questions.
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there were still some additional sources that i wanted to talk to and i wanted to come back to sources for more information. and so that's ultimately what is "the book of matt" taking the investigation beyond where the abc news piece was. the abc news piece for those of you that haven't seen it we suggested that aaron mckinney and matthew shepard had known each other prior to the side of the crime and as you saw from what i read the established door he was these were strangers, too quote unquote rednecks who walked into it are and saw a fellow who was well-dressed and it here to be gay and decided to rob and beat him. that story from being with us for a long time i was able to trace of that story itself had
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several different iterations. one of the versions, well the version i read to you was that matthew shepard was identified in the ward as being gay and he left with the two strangers. kristen price aaron mckinney's girlfriend, a few days after matthew was found, after the crime, she went on national television coincidently on abc news 20/20 and said that again she was not there. she was not part of the crime and she was not at the fireside lounge that night but based on what aaron mckinney had told her she said that what had happened is aaron and russell when the -- were in the bar at the fireside in matthew eight a sexual advance on him and it humiliated them in front of their friends and they decided to take matthew out and beat him up to teach him a lesson not to come on to
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straight people. well there were other iterations of the story. by the time of aaron mckinney's trial as part of his gay panic defense aaron mckinney wasn't saying that matthew had come onto him or russell henderson and the bar but that while after they had left the bar aaron, russell and matthew, after driving through town they were at the other end of town at walmart that matthew reached over and grabbed him and it was that the caused him to explode when matthew grabbed him. there were a variety of other versions that were told around this gay panic, okay? i have interviewed aaron mckinney and russell henderson extensively and i interviewed kristin price and chastity paisley their girlfriends extensively and all for it but it to me that the story about matthew making a sexual advance was really essentially an alibi
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beginning with when aaron arrived home that night what aaron told kristen and in my opinion anyway this was kind of a stupid defense, kind of a deplorable defense an excuse but it was a story that aaron and kristen decided with some kind of a defense and they also enlisted the help of russell henderson and chastity paisley and telling that story, that this had to do with matthew making an unwanted sexual advance. i want to read you one short -- this is a short letter and this wasn't released obviously at the time early in the case. this came out later and when i was doing my research at the courthouse this really struck me very much. and i kept looking at it and
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examining it. this was a letter that aaron mckinney wrote a handwritten letter, part of the official record that aaron smuggled to russell here in jail at the albany county detention center center -- this was after they were arrested in and aaron was essentially advising russell about the scenario. they should use to explain the attacks of these were aaron mckinney's words. hey homeboy when we go to court if they try us together or separate, they should hear you say what i said so this is what i told him. me and you, me and you is getting messed up but the bar and when he was fixing to leave matt shepard ask us for a ride home so we gave him a ride and when we got out there he tried to get on me until i started -- and i started kicking him.
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at no time did we know he was gay until he tried to get on me. the reason matt told us he lived in imperial heights is because he wanted to get me in a dark place so we could get funky. that's all i have got for now. i'm sure i will think of more later. so if you hear aaron mckinney's own words there there is here now another version. matthews asked for a ride home and that is why as they were driving matt wanted to get into a funky place which contradicts other things that aaron had made in statements. so without going into all the details and i know some of you have read the book. i hope you'll read the book is there a many details that i can't possibly go into in the short time we have here. really what interests me most is the conversation and discussion we can have but i will say a little bit about what i
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discovered. what i discovered is that in fact aaron mckinney and matthew shepard were not strangers but they had a friendship for many months before this crime that happened and i discovered that russell henderson had never met matthew shepard before that night and the context of the relationship between aaron and matthew was not only that they were friends but they had also socialized in some of the same party circles in laramie around metha
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so i went on to educate myself about methamphetamine. i contacted some of the leading experts in the country ,-com,-com ma people that it works in wyoming in the rocky mountain region nationally and even internationally to learn about this drug and i learned a lot about it and there are some
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things in the vote. i don't need to tell the folks here but just as a reminder, in 1998 when this crime happened here in laramie methamphetamine was just beginning to become a serious problem. in the course of my research i interviewed a dealer who was a former bartender here in laramie who ultimately in the early 2000 and it's up serving time in federal prison for dealing anti-explain to me that he was one of the first people to bring math to laramie in 1993 so meth was starting to take hold by the early to mid-90s but was certainly a real problem by 1998 the wider context is meth was beginning to be a problem throughout the midwest in states like missouri, iowa, kansas,
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nebraska and was moving into the rocky mountain west colorado wyoming and montana. it was already becoming a big rovlin. within a couple of years of matthews murder, very high rates of crime. eventually hit 70% of the crime in the state of wyoming. it was related back to meth. you had hear some of the highest per-capita rural rates of meth use in the nation and that continues to today. it has been for several years. things have improved in some ways. i was driven by something very personal. once i learned about meth and i know the national media was not really rip hoarding in any significant way on this story. that didn't really begin until somewhere around 2004, 2005, six. it became a significant national
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story that magazines like thai and "newsweek" were reporting on. on a very personal level as a gay man, you know in the 1980s i was in new york and the aids epidemic really started to hit by the mid-80s and was becoming catastrophic in new york. i ended up you know losing many many friends that i had. i would say probably 75% maybe of the friends and acquaintances that i had in new york that were gay and mail got sick and at that time this disease was a death sentence. that's not the case today but most people got sick and died within a matter of a few months. you got a series of infections and diseases and you died. for me there was a kind of post-traumatic stress associated of that, just seeing one person
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after another go from this. well, jump ahead several years. i'm doing work on the story in learning about meth and discover there was studies being done at ucla medical center showing that there were higher rates of hiv transmission among gay males that were using or abusing crystal meth. any of you know about some of the effects of this drug in the early stages it makes you feel 100 feet tall. you are indestructible. you are powerful. it makes you feel very very good and while using this drug, people were feeling they didn't need to use any kind of protection. it was helping the spread of the disease and learning that horrified me. in 1998 when this crime happened
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here in laramie the crystal meth epidemic in addition to the areas i mentioned, it was moving through and had already began to move through urban gay enclaves particularly new york san francisco and l.a.. there was a crystal meth act at at -- epidemic. again that caught my attention. i've been spending a lot of time in wyoming and i realized that by 1998 meth was also a problem in denver where matthew had been living before he came to laramie in the summer of 1998. eventually i learned quite a bit about matthew's life in denver before he came to laramie but he had friends here. before he moved here to attend the university of wyoming one of his very good friends will fold and who taught at the university of wyoming, matt stayed at walt's house in state at the house.
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at the time matthew was attacked he had a driver's license that had walt bolden's address here in laramie. so eventually where this took me is into the drug world into the world around methamphetamine. i interviewed many friends of aaron mckinney who were involved in using and selling meth here. i learned some things about who their suppliers were. some of those suppliers ended up serving prison time later. i also learned about the group of people that matthew shepard had got involved with in denver before he moved to laramie and a few of those people were from laramie and had grown up here but moved to denver and they too moves back and forth. so i don't want to ruin your read of the book and go into a lot more details in terms of what i discovered about what was going on the night of the crime but i would like to just ask
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because i highlighted a couple of bases in the look and i was wondering just based on what i have told you if maybe someone might offer a suggestion. what interests you in terms of what i'm talking about right now because i would like to read one more passage in i want to turn this over to a discussion and conversation because i can't possibly go through everything that is in the book. i do have it passage regarding russell henderson that i would like to read. it's a short one but is there anything else, anything that folks here are really interested in hearing me talk about or hearing me read something from the look? >> i am just interested in hearing how this shepard family
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feels about the book. i thought we would get to that later in questions but i'm happy to talk about that. there has been no direct response from dennis and judy. but there was is, there was a statement that was released. the book has been out for about four months and i believe it was an early out over. the book had just been out for a matter of few days and there's a statement released by the matthew shepard foundation saying and i'm really paraphrasing here. it was a short statement one paragraph long and it just said we are not going to respond to any windows or rumors or conspiracy theories and said that they would continue and carry forward, they would continue with the work that they set out to do in mapi's name but there was not a single -- there was not a single reference to anything in the book, any specifics so saying this is not
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true for this reason and that has been the case over the last four months. in the book i have a long quote from jason marston who is executive director of the matthew shepard foundation a long quote, actually a couple of quotes that come from and interview at video interview i did with jason marston in 2002 in which jason acknowledges very clearly that the picture painted by the media of matthew shepard is really inaccurate and he also talks about methamphetamine and acknowledges that this was perhaps the worst methamphetamine related crime in the history of wyoming. you're welcome. >> you wrote about interviewing the peep hole that they were in
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their jail cells with in prison. >> in the jail here in laramie and i was fortunate to get access to notes taken by defense investigator interviewed i believe it was fifth teener 17 of aaron and russell's fellow inmates in jail while they were awaiting trial for mapi's murder there were a couple of people on that list that i also interviewed myself as i found the names on that list, i contacted them and i interviewed them. one in particular who has had a long arrest record or methamphetamines or will offense is said that aaron mckinney acknowledged to him that the whole thing happened because of drugs and drugs that they were trying to get the matthew shepard.
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i'm sorry, i see a hand there. >> is there anything you found that showed the effect or solidification of public opinion after the movie was released as opposed to just the trial? >> when you're talking about the movie do you mean the laramie project? i really can't say anything statistically but what i can say is that the laramie project was a play first which began at the denver theatre center and then it ended up getting done in many places in this country and then it became an hbo film. since the hbo film there has been what they call the epilogue 10 years later. it's sort of a part 2 to the laramie project. when they did part 2 they spoke about coming back to laramie and doing interviews and the implication was that they found it troubling that 10 years
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earlier more people seem to believe this was an anti-gay hate crime and when they came back 10 years later that the percentage of people that believe that this was drug related had increased. i think what i will do is read one passage here. and folks if you have questions we have a mic here in the lower right hand portion of the auditorium. that way everyone else in the auditorium can hear your question. >> i'm going to read just a short passage here about russell henderson and the reason i'm going to read this is because when i came to this story, i really believed based on what the media had said that aaron
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mckinney and russell henderson were equally involved in this crime and i certainly understand what this felony murder statute is and i understand russell's role as an accomplice but when i came here i thought was that these men beat matthew to death than i thought thought they both had a motive and what i learned over time as i came to understand the relationship between aaron mckinney and matthew shepard is aaron mckinney actually did have a motive and in fact he had motives plural. russell henderson did not have a motive. that is not in any way to excuse any of russell's actions but i would like to read to you because i have known both men now. i began communicating with aaron and russell in 2002 so it's almost 12 years. i have visited them in prisons. i have followed them over many years and they have moved all
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around the country. they started here, they went to nevada, texas, oklahoma and virginia and then they came back to wyoming. i've gotten to know both of them quite well but i'm going to take you back a little bit. this is a little excerpt from chapter 12 which is called indian springs and i'm not going to read, i'm just going to take a couple of short excerpts did let you know what my thinking was early on in this investigation as it related to russell. other than matthew shepard himself no one involved in the laramie tragedy perplex me more than russell henderson. at the start of my investigation i accept that as fact that he and aaron mckinney have participated more or less equally in beating matthew, an impression first solidified with the onslaught of media coverage following the attack. "time" magazine citing unnamed
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police sources reported quote mckinney apparently taking turns with henderson began pounding shepard on the head with a 357 magnum revolver. other leading news organizations stated conclusively that oath men beat matthew. according to "the denver post" quote the assailants kept hitting hitting him until they believed he was dead. yet two weeks after matthew died "u.s. news and world report" said it was henderson who allegedly pistol whipped him. aaron mckinney and russell henderson were deeply compressed by the meeting into a single personality with an identical set of motives. the new york times was one of the few news organizations to hand at serious character differences. if russell henderson was a quiet follower the time stated 10 days after the attack, aaron mckinney was a man with a
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short views but long after both men were convicted confusion persisted over the real nature of russell henderson's involvement. nothing i could find and russell henderson's personal history seemed to fit with the violence of the murder. in contrast aaron mckinney had a reputation around laramie for his volatile temper as well as a long juvenile record. as a void mckinney had allegedly abused animals for the fun of it. after henderson's arrest for an in 1998 attack his landlord sherry adamson described him to a reporter as quote quiet, polite, just your average male and the most american kid you could get. i have a hard time imagining him coming up if anything like this on his own she stated. it seems extremely out of character.
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skipping ahead a little bit here by the time of the first face-to-face interview in the spring of 2003, before that we did letters and i also did a number of recorded phone interviews with both russell and aaron. by the time of our first face-to-face interview in the spring of 2003 russell had been transferred from wyoming state penitentiary to an austere prison and make the data desert. he was then and the fifth year of his double-life sentence. one purpose of of the interview was to find out how involved russell really was in the violence inflicted on matthew shepard. matthew had been beaten so severely with the barrel of a gun that his skull had been crushed. it was a topic russell have been wary of discussing and letters for phone conversations when he
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knew they were being monitored by prison authorities but echoes of my persistent doubts i questioned question tamerlin closely anyway. his story was always the same. quote, from one of his letters, i have told you everything i know. i would even take a polygraph test to prove it to you. maybe since i have been plastered all over the tv is one of the killers people won't need to be more involved than i really was. believe me, this life that i now have to live would be a lot easier if that were true. i hope that someday you'll believe me but i understand why you don't. and there is a little right fair. high desert state prison talked on the out skirts of nevada was a one-hour drive to barren clay colored hills from extracting all -- extravagantly outsized bellagio hotel where i was staying for two nights.
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"the new york times magazine" had given me a modest travel budget but at the last minute i got my low-priced package deal on line. leaving behind the flash e-commerce at the strip i soon found myself surrounded in every direction by clear cobalt skies which made the horizon itself seem like a mirage. i arrived at the prison wearing jeans and a denim shirt. my head was close to the scalp and was promptly advise that i was being turned away because my attire was virtually identical to the inmates uniform. an affable female guard smiled at my dilemma. her haircut doesn't help but she was also quick to give directions to a super walmart down the highway close to the edge of las vegas. if you hightail it you can buy yourself a new suit of clothing
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and be back here in just over an hour she promised. sure enough when russell henderson was escorted into the area later that morning he looked exactly as i had earlier right down to the shaved scalp. russell shorter than average about 5 feet 7 inches with a stocky build. as he joined me at a drab metal table in the middle of the room i felt the steady gaze of his lassie blue-green eyes. russell seemed intent on quick reassessing everything about me before i had a chance to do the same to him. maybe it was for survival skill picked up in prison but from what i had already learned secondhand he had spent much of his life in a state of high alert. as we face each other across the table and slowly got appointed russell's answers to my questions were quick and flat. an earlier phone conversations he had come across as a seemingly introverted and guard it.
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near the end of that first visit i asked how he was coping with two life sentences. without a grain of self-pity russell answered, the long hair for what i did. i'm not sure what i expected him to say but i heard none of the usual convicts complained that he was innocent or had gotten f over. there was much i hope russell henderson with clarify that day and the next morning when i return. instead i left the nevada prison somewhat disappoindisappoin ted by his reticence. at its april 1999 cents instinct russell had admitted that he drove the truck the night matthew shepard was robbed and beaten and it was he who tied matthew to the fence albeit under the instructions of aaron mckinney get russell also told me explicitly on several
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occasions that he quote never raised a hand against matthew. i never struck him, never hit him he repeated at a later date. i never even pushed him, never even shook his hand. since russell had agreed to a plea bargain and never presented concrete evidence to support his version of events why should he be believed now? after visiting him i arrived back in my las vegas hotel room more puzzled than ever by his matter-of-fact yet seemingly candid account of the crime that landed him in prison for the rest of his life. i also felt a lingering sense of confinement as i stared out the window at an opulent necklace of mosaic tiled swimming pools in the perfectly manicured gardens many stories below. that evening while drifting through the packed hotel casino in search of a restaurant hundreds of slot machines
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chirping loudly and flashing their colored lights, that sensation of being trapped on a surreal journey of my own was exacerbated and there's a little break here. long after he and i admit i had heard a rumor and laramie that his first year at the wyoming state penitentiary was a nightmare that he had been placed in segregation for a time for his own protection. there had been talk of a mob taking ownership of him as their life which he steadfastly denied to me. if true it was humiliation. he clearly did not want me writing about it. after my initial visit with russell i would not commit -- admit to anyone but myself but discomfort sparked in me as i got to know him personally or the empathy i had begun to feel. most of the time i retreated to
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a more detached professional stance in part to protect my work on the story but mostly to protect myself from becoming attached to him. at age 25 with two life sentences and a reputation as a contemptible anti-gay killer russell's predicament was nothing if not leak. i think that will do it for some readings for now. >> okay, any questions? steve, going back to how the media handled this, the story of the murder changed significantly in a fairly quick time that went from a robbery that got way out of hand to a hate crime. the national media picked up significant contacts in the
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narrative we are talking about in short fashion. you write matthew's friends and had no first-hand knowledge of the crime felt compelled to begin contacting media and gay organizations to create a narrative area of. >> that's a great question. first of all the two friends of matthew that we are talking about are walled old man -- walt olden and alex trout. walt bolden was teaching at the university. alex trout was a friend of matthew close in age to matthew. alex trout met matthew in casper when matthew was about 15 years old so they had known each other for quite some time. alex trout he knew for a few years but not as long.
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